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White House Official: Trump Received Coronavirus Briefings In January

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When did President Trump first learn about the coronavirus and what was he told? A White House official has told NPR that the president twice received intelligence briefings on the outbreak back in January. Joining us now to discuss her reporting is NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Ayesha, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Start by telling us what you learned, if you would.

RASCOE: A White House official told me that the president received two intelligence briefings on the coronavirus in January the first briefing was on January 23. And at that time, the president was told that the coronavirus was potentially going to spread, globally. But Trump was also told at that time that there was good news in the sense that the virus was not deadly for most people.

I'm also told that there was a second briefing on January 28. And then Trump was told that the virus was spreading outside of China but that deaths at the time from the virus were only happening within China. And probably importantly at that time on the 28, he was told that China was withholding data on the coronavirus.

MARTIN: Is that different from what the White House has said previously?

RASCOE: Well, we haven't had a lot of clarity from the White House on exact dates when President Trump was told about the virus. President Trump was asked about this last week. And he said that he was told about it in January, later January, but he didn't give specifics. And there have been some reports that maybe he had received some briefings earlier that, at times, the White House has denied.

MARTIN: So does this tell us something about how the White House was responding to the threat of the coronavirus?

RASCOE: It does when you kind of line up these days, these two dates in January and you look at what was happening in the administration at the time. Publicly, you do see perhaps responses. And then, also, sometimes, you see a bit of a disconnect. At that first briefing on the 23, the U.S. had just received its first recorded case of the coronavirus at the time from someone who had come to the U.S. and had been traveling in Wuhan. And the day after Trump received that briefing, he tweeted, complimenting China, saying that he appreciated China's efforts and their transparency. Then he gets that briefing on the 28. And what happened a few days later on the 31, Trump did shut down or did a partial shutdown of travel from China after he learned that it was spreading outside of China and that China was maybe withholding information.

But then just a few days later in early February, you have Trump at the State of the Union, saying that he and the U.S. government are working closely with China on the outbreak. So you don't get a sense at that time that there were issues with China. And what we know from what we're hearing now is that the president knew that they were withholding data. You also have the comments in February, March, where Trump - President Trump was still saying that the virus would just go away. And that obviously hasn't happened.

MARTIN: That is NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Ayesha, thanks so much for your reporting.

RASCOE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEMIR AND DEEN BURBIGO'S "AILLEURS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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